Hallstatt – a Victim of Mass Tourism?
Hallstatt is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Austria for travelers from all over the world. Most days, this small community greets a larger number of visitors than the actual number of residents in the village. This makes Hallstatt a site of mass tourism. Unfortunately, it’s near impossible to explore the region without running into other visitors.
That said, Hallstatt is still a fantastic destination and definitely worth a visit. Our best advice would be to book a trip outside the high season. The village is particularly beautiful in winter with its stunning snow-covered landscape.
Trust us, Hallstatt would never have become this popular if there wasn’t anything to see there. That’s why we’ve put together this blog post, to give you the best possible overview of what Hallstatt has to offer and to let you make up your own mind whether to visit!
Lake Hallstatt is a gorgeous mountain lake in the Austrian resort area of the Salzkammergut. The lake is situated at the northern foot of the imposing Dachstein mountains and is around 5.9 kilometers in length and up to 2 kilometers wide. At some points, the lake reaches a depth of 125 meters.
Steep, tree-covered slopes encircle Lake Hallstatt, making the landscape reminiscent of a fjord. If there are too many tourists in Hallstatt to your liking, you can also view the lake from Obertraun or Steeg.
Lake Hallstatt isn’t just breathtakingly beautiful, it’s also the most historically significant lake in the Alps. It’s an ideal holiday destination for nature-lovers or people just looking to relax somewhere peaceful. The lake offers easily accessible shores and a gorgeous mountain backdrop.
You can fish, swim, or even take a boat trip in the water. There are also plenty of hiking paths in the surrounding area, some of which will take you through the nearby mountains.
As the region is home to a diversity of flora and fauna, some rarer animals and plant species can also be spotted here. The native orchids, which are native to the north and south of the region, are just one example.
Hallstatt’s Historic Old Town
The historic centre of Hallstatt is situated around the village’s charming marketplace. The balconies of the traditional houses are often decorated with plenty of flowers, which lend the streets a unique and colourful atmosphere. You’ll also find plenty of shops and cafés as well as an elegant statue of the Holy Trinity, one of the old town’s many highlights.
The Evangelical Church of Hallstatt is in the very centre of the village. This church dates back to the 19th century and has a tall, slender spire that’s pretty eye-catching. The church is a symbol for this idyllic village, with the tower helping to make the view of Hallstatt stand out.
The most popular photo hotspot in the village is just a short walk away from the marketplace. This is where you’ll get the most popular view of Hallstatt, one that frequently appears if you search for images of the village online!
The Catholic Parish Church and its Ossuary Chapel
The Roman Catholic Church of the Assumption of Mary dates back to the 15th century. The short hike up the hillside to reach the church isn’t only worthwhile for the fantastic view you’ll get of Lake Hallstatt. The church itself houses some notable works of art, including three beautiful, winged altars and late gothic frescoes from around 1500.
If you take a guided tour of the church, you can also hear the fascinating story of a brazen art theft that took place there. In the 1980s, four gothic paintings were stolen from their place in the church. After a search that lasted years, the paintings were eventually tracked down in 2018 and brought back to their original spot on the altar.
You can admire the largest and most impressive collection of decorated skulls in the world in the ossuary of the Chapel of St. Michael. Exhuming the bones of the dead and storing them in ossuaries due to a lack of graveyard space is not necessarily uncommon. However, the fact flowers, names, and dates adorn these bones is something that is unique to the Alpine region.
Even though the town is small, it’s home to a fantastic museum. The Museum Hallstatt houses fascinating exhibits about the history of the village and surrounding region over the last seven centuries. You can learn a lot about this cosy community, following its history from the beginning of the salt mines to when the village was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Other exhibits deal with later settlers such as the Celts. There’s even an interactive multimedia exhibition that displays the tools and artefacts from the village’s history.
Another interesting museum is the Prehistoric Necropolis. It was built over an ancient burial ground and gives you an up-close view of the historic tombs, which date from between 5000 and 1000 BC.
Over 4,000 people were buried in the graves. In addition, many valuable grave goods and artefacts were discovered during excavations, some of which even date back to the Ice Age.
The Hallstatt Salt Mine
The Hallstatt salt mine is located high above the town on the approximately 1,000-metre-high Salzberg mountain. This mine is over 7,000 years old, and you can reach it via a three-minute trip in a cable car.
There’s plenty to see and do in this historic mine. One of its highlights is the story of the preserved body that was found here in 1734, which became known as the “Man in the Salt”. But the fascinating exhibitions about old and modern mining methods are also a reason to make a trip to the Hallstatt salt mine. One of the newest attractions is the salt manufactory. We recommend taking a guided tour through it, as it will give you an interesting insight into the production of high-quality salt products.
Make sure not to miss out on the opportunity to visit the underground salt lake. There’s also a popular attraction for kids (or grown-ups, we won’t judge), a 64-meter-long slide – so enjoy zooming down the longest wooden slide in Europe!
In addition to the attractions we already mentioned, the salt mine is worth a visit just for the view from the skywalk outside. The skywalk is a platform that sticks out over the steep hillside, with Hallstatt around 350 meters below.
If you want to get another stunning view, it’s also worth travelling to the historical Rudolfsturm. However, you can only reach this old fortress via footbridges. Its original purpose was to defend the mines against invaders, but today it houses a restaurant and serves mainly as a lookout tower.
The Dachstein Mountains
The Dachstein Mountains are a must-see on any sightseeing tour of Hallstatt. The mountains, which are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consist of a row of impressive peaks, each of which is between 2,000 and 3,000 meters high. The tallest of them all is the Hohe Dachstein, at 2,995 meters.
The Dachstein Mountains are particularly popular due to their large glaciers. The most well-known are the Große Gosau Glacier and the Hallstätter Glacier. In winter, ski enthusiasts frequent these mountains, and hikers get their turn once the snow melts away in the summer.
A row of cable cars can take you up the mountains, giving you access to the numerous Alpine hiking trails. You’ll have spectacular views no matter which route you take.
However, the most impressive overlook is the so-called “Five Fingers”. It’s made up of five long platforms that stretch out over the drop below like a floating hand.
Each of the platforms have different designs and offer an entirely different perspective to the others. One, for example, is completely made from glass, whereas another lets you view the stunning landscape around you through oversized baroque frames.
The Dachstein Caves
The spectacular Dachstein Caves are another highlight of the Dachstein Mountains near Hallstatt. This massive network of caverns reaches depths of up to 1,174 meters and is among the most impressive cave systems in the eastern Alps. Rock sculptures, gigantic curtains of ice, and massive icicles await you in this underground world.
One highlight is the Giant Ice Cave, which has many large caverns and magnificent frozen waterfalls. If you have the chance, we really recommend visiting this location for one of the regular underground music concerts. The acoustics there are truly something else!
The Hohe Krippenstein
From the Dachstein Caves, the cable car can take you further up to the mountain station of the Hohe Krippenstein. Here, a little chapel dating back to 1959 is situated just above the cable car station. It commemorates the memory of a group of 13 teachers and pupils that died here in 1954.
The best sights on the Hohe Krippenstein include the beautiful world heritage spiral. This viewing platform resembles a metallic ship and offers you an incredible panoramic view of the Dachstein Mountains. If you want to stay here a little longer, there are also comfortable deckchairs.
Hallstatt has unfortunately gained a negative reputation among many backpackers because of the mass tourism that has taken hold of the tiny village. However, we think it would be a real shame to reduce this idyllic destination to the number of visitors it receives.
There’s good reason why Hallstatt is so popular. Its location on the shores of Lake Hallstatt makes the village look like it’s from a fairy tale. A visit to Hallstatt is worth it just for the lake alone.
However, the village has even more to offer. The area surrounding Hallstatt is famous for being the centre of historic salt mining. You can explore a 7000-year-old salt mine or visit an underground salt lake.
In the Dachstein Mountains, you can also enjoy stunning views from numerous hiking trails. There are, of course, various viewing platforms, including the “Five Fingers”. The absolute highlight, however, are the breathtaking Dachstein caves, which transport you into a magical world of ice.
As you can see, there are plenty of spots and activities in Hallstatt where you won’t just be worrying about crowds of people. However, if you want to make sure you don’t end up in a hopelessly overcrowded tourist hotspot, just try to plan your visit outside the area’s peak season!